Part 13: Selected growth fallacies
By Frosty Wooldridge
How did we wander into this “growth at all costs” trap? How could educated and rational leaders cheer unending Gross National Product? At what point does the stock market explode through the ceiling and why do we cheer its continuous growth? That’s like cheering a 450 pound 5’10” man into eating a truck load of ice cream so he might “grow” to 500 pounds. Once he reaches 500, pro-growth advocates would cheer him on to 600, 700 and 800 pounds.
As America adds the next 100 million people by 2040, how will cities like Los Angeles survive its projected 20 million added people? How will California grow crops with dwindling farmland and water? How will drivers deal with adding another 15 to 20 million cars and trucks onto their gridlocked highways of 2007? How will LAX and Ontario airports deal with more air traffic? How about the horrific air pollution generated by millions of cars, homes, schools, factories and farms?
In his book, “COLLAPSE: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed,” Pulitzer Prize winning author Jared Diamond illustrated how great civilizations dismantled their own sustainability. On tiny Easter Island, humans ignored nature, cut down all the trees, built 50 ton rock monuments and died of overpopulation via starvation. Today, we’re faced with the same dilemmas Rome, Anasazi, Mayans, present day Rwanda and other vanished civilizations discovered.
As our numbers grow, America and most of the Western world will battle for remaining resources. It’s already a nightmare of epic proportions in India, China and Bangladesh. What ties my brain in knots stems from the most powerful leaders in the world ignoring this human situation on every front.
Bush thinks if we study global warming more, or ignore it further, perhaps it will vanish. If he pretends we don’t have 3.5 million homeless in America, maybe they will fade into the woodwork. If we disregard our water crisis in the American West, surely, adding 30, 40 or 50 million people to Texas, California, Arizona and New Mexico won’t be a problem.
However, as Herman E. Daly, author of “Steady State Economics” said, “If you’ve eaten poison, you must get rid of the substances that are making you ill. Let us then, apply the stomach pump to the doctrines of economic growth that we have been forced-fed for decades.”
He makes a point I consider critical in this debate: “We cannot have too many people alive simultaneously lest we destroy carrying capacity and thereby reduce the number of lives possible in all subsequent time periods.”
Let’s face it, capitalism, for all it brings us in wealth—also destroys our supporting environment at a sickening pace. Capitalism’s voracious drive for production and consumption knows no bounds. If allowed, it would, like a cancer cell, multiply production until it kills its host.
Daly states, “Environmental degradation is an iatrogenic disease induced by physicians (pro-growth advocates) who attempt to treat the sickness with unlimited wants by prescribing unlimited production. We do not cure a treatment-induced disease by increasing the treatment dosage.”
What does that mean? You can’t keep red-lining a four cylinder engine with limited horsepower to make it rev up forever in order to create more energy. You will, in the end, blow up the engine just as you would kill a horse by overloading the wagon it’s pulling.
As the economist Tobin wrote, “The prevailing standard model of growth assumes that there are no limits on the expanding of supplies of nonhuman agents of production. It is a two-factor model in which production depends only on labor and reproducible capital. Land and resources, the third member of the triad, have been dropped.”
In other words, ignored as a factor in GNP! That’s like ignoring that our 500 pound friend has reached 600 pounds and can no longer walk because he’s too fat to get onto his feet.
As Daly said, “Current economic growth has uncoupled itself from the world and has become irrelevant. Worse, it has become a blind guide.”
If we bet the house on growing our population by adding 100 million and then, another 100 million, what if the hypothesis that technology will save us turns out wrong? We bet now by adding 100 million and our children in 30 years reap the whirlwind of a lost wager.